KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Nine people — seven students and two adults — were taken to area hospitals Wednesday after becoming ill from a carbon monoxide leak at Longfellow Elementary School in Kansas City, Missouri.
The Kansas City, Missouri, Fire Department said a leak in one of the building’s two boilers, which are used to heat the school, was the culprit of the CO leak.
The seven children were transported to Children’s Mercy Hospital and both adults, who were identified only as employees of the school, were transported to University Health Truman Medical Center, according to KCFD Assistant Fire Chief Jimmy Walker. All are expected to recover.
“We believe at this time they will be released today,” KCPS spokesperson Elle Moxley said. “That is our hope.”
KCFD first responders were later called to Manual Career Tech Center — where the remaining students, faculty and staff were taken aboard four KCPS buses — shortly before 11:45 a.m. to re-examine some of the children.
After initially planning to take two more students to the hospital, Walker said those students' vital signs stabilized and they were allowed to remain at Manual Tech.
Moxley, who said there are 229 students enrolled at Longfellow Elementary, confirmed that several students were checked again by medical personnel after complaining of symptoms at Manual Tech.
“We know that a few of them were feeling a little nauseous, a little panicky,” Moxley said. “We’re trying to make sure that those are actually carbon monoxide symptoms and not maybe some stress and anxiety from today. Obviously, it’s been a big day.”
She said approximately 50 Longfellow Elementary remained at Manual Tech around 1:30 p.m.
KCFD and KCPS medical personnel were on-site to continue to monitor the students at Manual Tech.
Walker said KCFD crews responded to Longfellow Elementary, which is located at 2830 Holmes St., around 9:30 a.m. after receiving a call that several children in the building had become ill.
Moxley said the building had working CO detectors in place, but building staff first realized there was an issue because students were exhibiting symptoms of CO poisoning.
The CO monitors KCFD firefighters used at the scene peak at 2,000 parts per million and were maxed out, indicating “extremely high levels of carbon monoxide,” Walker said.
He commended KCPS personnel for their quick action to evacuate the building.
“Once we got them outside, we started treating multiple patients on the scene,” Walker said.
While CO poisoning can be lethal, responders “got them out of the building quick enough,” he said.
Some children are being loaded into ambulances. We’re working to learn where they are being taken to.— Abby Dodge (@Abby_OnAir) October 19, 2022
The elementary is located just blocks from Children’s Mercy. pic.twitter.com/0obeFk0Iqf
The district sent text messages and emails to the parents of all Longfellow Elementary students about the situation. Families were allowed to pick up their students at Manual Tech.
“Most of our families have been able to come by and pick up their kids,” Moxley said in an update from Manual Tech around 12:30 p.m. “However, the families that still need some child-care support this afternoon, their kids are safe.”
The remaining students were provided lunch and some were provided winter coats, because many students left their personal belongings during the evacuation.
KCPS said “every child was checked” and the district will work with the fire department “to make sure this building is safe.”
Moxley said the district had its heating systems, including the boilers at Longfellow Elementary, checked last week before turning them on and no problem was detected by contractors.
“These older facilities, it just happens,” Walker said. “But I can’t commend the school district staff enough for getting the kids outside.”
Moxley said the boilers at Longfellow, which were inspected Friday in anticipation of this week's cold snap, were less than 6 years old and had been used Monday and Tuesday without incident.
"We believe that something may have happened overnight or this morning to cause a failure in the system," Moxley said. "We're working really hard right now to identify where that failure occurred and what it's going to take to repair it."
KCFD ventilated the school to clear the carbon monoxide and Spire was being called to shut off natural gas to any damaged or leaking boiler system.
KCPS was bringing in a contractor Wednesday afternoon to assess the boiler and perform any needed repairs and would work with KCFD to be sure the building was safe before it reopened.
“My message to the parents of this community is be thankful for this staff and all that they did,” Walker said.
The leak affected the entire building, according to Walker. The building’s usability Thursday and moving forward will depend on how quickly repairs can be made to the building.
Walker encouraged parents of Longfellow Elementary students who were exposed to the CO leak to monitor for symptoms of CO poisoning. If a child is lethargic, vomiting or has no appetite, parents may want to have a pediatrician check them out just to be safe.
“We always say it’s the silent killer, and it really is,” said Walker, who said the only protection for families is to have CO detectors installed in their home.
He also reminded Kansas Citians to check the batteries in their smoke detectors.
Students were outside for roughly 30 to 40 minutes before they were bussed to Manual Tech. KCPS staff was able to provide blankets to help keep children warm.
If the building remains closed, KCPS will hold school for Longfellow Elementary students in kindergarten through sixth grade Thursday at Manual Tech for those who wish to attend. Bus routes will run as normal.
Pre-K students will be at Woodland Early Learning Center if Longfellow Elementary remains closed, according to Moxley.
"We don't know yet if we'll have school tomorrow," Moxley said. "We plan to make that determination later today once our contractor's really had a chance to look at that boiler system and make sure it's safe. Obviously, we will not be reopening that building until we are certain that we can have classes safely there."
Missouri does not require public schools to have CO monitors in its buildings.
In fact, Connecticut, Maine, California, Maryland and Illinois are the only states that require CO monitors in school buildings, according to a February 2020 report from the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Editor's note: KCFD and KCPS officials revised the number of students who were transported to the hospital a couple times Wednesday afternoon after some initial confusion as news of the CO leak was developing.